Image of the ruins of St Augustine's Abbey in Canterbury
Although lockdown has been a time of anxiety and loss in Canterbury as elsewhere, it may be that these months will come to be seen as a time of innovation and hope. © Historic England DP130058
Although lockdown has been a time of anxiety and loss in Canterbury as elsewhere, it may be that these months will come to be seen as a time of innovation and hope. © Historic England DP130058

Coronavirus Brings Innovation and Hope to Canterbury

By Jan Pahl, Vice President of the Canterbury Society

My article reflects on the impact of coronavirus from the perspective of a local civic society, in
this case the Canterbury Society. The months of the coronavirus lockdown have been a time of anxiety and loss in Canterbury as elsewhere. But it may be that these months will also come to be seen as a time of innovation and hope.

Canterbury depends for its prosperity on tourism and higher education. Both have been
seriously damaged by the pandemic, with an impact particularly on young people and those
with low incomes. So the local situation is very worrying.

The Canterbury Society shares these concerns and, like other civic societies, has seen many
losses, with talks cancelled, litter picks postponed and meetings taking place by Zoom if at all.

The Heritage Open Days have been organised, but we still don't know whether they'll take place. Planning applications are still coming in and members of the Canterbury Heritage and Design Forum continue to forward their comments. But decisions are made in closed Planning Committee meetings to which residents contribute only through videos sent in to councillors.

However, there have also been innovations and gains, particularly in terms of community spirit. In the past the Canterbury Society newsletter aimed simply to inform readers about upcoming talks and events.

Now, that same newsletter has been transformed into a key medium for keeping local people in touch with each other and with the Covid-19 situation. Thanks to a dynamic editor, readership has soared. Readers who were passive recipients have become active contributors. The newsletter is on track to create a historic record of the city as the coronavirus swept through it.

The pandemic has also boosted interest in the green agenda. People have enjoyed the cleaner
air, the traffic free roads and the opportunities for safer cycling. They want these gains to be
maintained when the lockdown ends.

Members of the Canterbury Climate Action Partnership are working on a paper on ‘Lessons from Covid-19: a Need for a New Approach’. The Canterbury Alliance for Sustainable Transport has produced ‘A New Transport Strategy for Canterbury’, which highlights walking, cycling and public transport.

Since lockdown began there have also been two new petitions to the City Council. One is for the introduction of a Cycle Super Highway round the city. The second is for a Pollinator Action Plan to ensure that mowing regimes in the city’s green spaces allow pollinators to flourish.

The lockdown has stimulated enthusiasm for some neglected areas of our heritage. Walkers
have enjoyed England’s network of historic footpaths – but have also been shocked by the way in which footpath signs and stiles have been allowed to fall into disrepair.

This is yet another example of the damage done to heritage by the cuts in local authority
funding. When lockdown ends, renovating our footpaths should be an area for investment, for
the sake of heritage, health and happiness.

A heritage of song has also been revealed by the lockdown. In the St Dunstan’s area of the city the residents’ association has set up a support network, linking those who need help with those who have offered help. It has also been blessed by the appearance of some ‘Wandering
Minstrels’, who go round the streets on Sunday afternoons inviting local people to listen to and join in with well known songs.

Standing socially distanced in my street, singing ‘Frere Jacques’ and ‘You’ll never walk alone’ with my neighbours, brought home to me the great heritage of popular song which we share.

We in Canterbury have welcomed this opportunity to take part in the Historic England Online Debate. It would be good to hear that other parts of the country are similarly finding that the coronavirus has brought, not only anxiety and loss, but also innovation and hope to a worried world. We need to start now to think about how those hopes can be turned into action.

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